After about eight hours, I finally put The Force Unleashed to rest and, I’m very sad to say, the promise of the early storyline during the first five hours dipped considerably during the latter half. This had mostly to do with the game’s intent manifesto to include the requisite Star Wars cameos that would make fans of the films, not just the Expanded Universe, more comfortable with the set up. Sadly, the issue is not helped by the fact that, despite the scope of the universe, the second half of the game mostly focuses on return visits to earlier worlds for subsequently different reasons (Kashyyk, Felucia and the Jedi Temple being the three that spring readily to mind).
The gameplay continues as usual; all serious confrontations ending solely with QTEs and the earlier AT-ST confrontation being repeated with such regularity that it quickly loses its initial appeal. The real injustice in the game however is not the gameplay, but the way in which the storyline is quickly reduced to incoherent nonsense.
Following the Apprentice’s mission to defeat Shaak Ti on Felucia, he returns to his master who chides him for being followed by the Emperor’s spies. Palpatine himself then turns up and instructs Vader to finish the Apprentice which, to all purposes and intents, he does – throwing the young boy out of an airlock, only to swiftly rescue him later.
Vader heals the Apprentice and again reiterates than no one must know of their connection yet, at the same time, in order for them to complete their destiny as almost ‘father and son’, the Apprentice must fashion an army with which to challenge Palpatine’s power. The Apprentice then heads off for a final training mission in the Jedi Temple, killing all Imperial forces as he has on two separate occasions before (yet strangely, despite the significance of the location, Palpatine never noticed his guards being killed on a regular basis) and then heads off to set up the Rebel Alliance, rescuing Princess Leia along the way, fighting random Mandalorians and hanging out with Lobot until finally meeting up with Garm Bel Iblis (who certainly doesn’t look like I imagined him).
Vader then betrays the Apprentice, kidnaps all of the ‘Alliance leaders’ and takes them off to the Death Star to be interrogated and executed by Palpatine himself. So off sets the Secret Apprentice to rescue his new friends and completely mess up some of the most significant events of A New Hope.
In all honesty, I’m surprised that the Apprentice wasn’t *another* person suddenly made canonically responsible for stealing the Death Star plans…but apparently he just single-handedly started the Alliance instead.
The illusion of choice in the gameplay is quickly dispelled early amongst the game’s new turn of events. It is impossible to kill apprentice-turned-Dark Side adept, Maris Brood on Felucia when she kidnaps Bail Organa. Likewise it is impossible to kill all the Alliance members on the Death Star. The only choice is to fight Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine which…is not what I wanted at all.
All in all, the impression is one of exceeding disappointment, resulting in a restrictive game that neither allows you to fully explore the universe in which you have been placed nor interact with the storyline. I can’t help but feel a little cheated, especially after how the opening actually succeeded in winning me over to the Secret Apprentice’s plight.
Hopefully, Soul Calibur IV will prove more sensible (and yes, I really do realise how silly that sounds).